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CREWS KNOCK DOWN FIRE BLAZE SNARLS I-5 TRAFFIC; ALERT ALREADY IN PLACE.

Byline: Heather MacDonald and Patricia Farrell Aidem Staff Writers

CASTAIC - A raging brush fire burned more than 100 acres Monday afternoon, closed the northbound Golden State Freeway and threatened a mobile home park before being knocked down by crews already on alert, fire officials said.

The blaze was sparked by a pickup truck on fire on the northbound I-5 near Templin Highway in a sparsely populated area on the edge of the Angeles National Forest and quickly spread, said Inspector Ed Osorio of the Los Angeles County Fire Department.

Under a red-flag alert - the highest fire danger warning - more than 200 firefighters, including four water-dropping aircraft crews and the U.S. Forest Service, got control of the blaze in about 2 1/2 hours, Osorio said.

``Unless the winds kick up and blow embers from the center of the fire to the unburned areas, it should be pretty much out,'' Osorio said.

Traffic on both sides of the freeway backed up for several miles after the California Highway Patrol closed the northbound I-5 in Castaic for more than an hour because of thick black smoke from burning bushes along the freeway. Bumper-to-bumper traffic stretched south at least 10 miles while travelers from the north stalled at the Kern County line.

Twenty additional firefighters have been called in to cover the county's northern swath and water trucks and other heavy equipment are poised for use in what could be the beginning of another brutal fire season, county fire officials said.

Last year, 30,000 acres burned in the region.

``We have extra patrols, extra manpower and extra apparatus ready for a large brush fire,'' Osorio said. ``We've got helicopters ready to go - the fastest way to fight a brush fire in these conditions is from the air.''

Although the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department urged residents of the Paradise Ranch Mobile Home Park to prepare to be evacuated, some scoffed as flames approached this fire-prone enclave.

``It's like an every-year occurrence up here,'' said Bruce Hill, who has lived in the 94-home Paradise Ranch for seven years. ``I'm just gathering some financial papers so I can grab them and go if I have to. Everything else is replaceable.''

Others said they were weary of being constantly prepared to make a quick getaway during fire season.

``I'm all pooped out,'' said Marge Eastburn, 75. ``I can't take much more of this. My heart can't stand it.''

Eastburn, who has lived at Paradise Ranch for 27 years, said she piled everything she could into her minivan, including her cat, clothes and crucial papers and waited anxiously until fire officials gave the all clear.

After the last fire, Eastburn said she put pictures and heirlooms from her parents and grandparents into a storage locker so she wouldn't have to worry about having to leave them behind in a fire.

``It's expensive, but you gotta do what you gotta do,'' Eastburn said.

The area near the mobile home park last burned in September when a blaze chewed up nearly 1,000 acres.

There will be a high risk of brush fires for the next several days because of continuing hot, dry and windy weather, officials said.

The red-flag alert was issued Saturday afternoon, said county fire Capt. Mark Savage. With high winds in the Santa Clarita and Antelope valleys, 100-degree-plus temperatures and low humidity, fire officials extended the alert through today in northern Los Angeles County.

On Saturday, fire charred 150 acres of brush in Agua Dulce near the Antelope Valley Freeway, said Phil Ulloa, a county fire supervising dispatcher.

The fire posed a brief threat to a vacation motor home park, but no structures were damaged.

Earlier, a grass fire along the Grapevine west of Interstate 5 and north of Fort Tejon State Park caused delays for thousands of motorists returning home from their holiday weekend. The 25-acre fire kept traffic jammed on the state's main north-south artery as travelers headed home after the holiday weekend.

CAPTION(S):

4 photos

Photo:

(1 -- color -- ran in SAC edition only) A county helicopter makes a drop on advancing flames along the Golden State Freeway near Templin Highway Monday.

(2 -- 4 -- color -- ran in SAC edition only) A hand crew, far left, tries to stop the flames along I-5 Monday; a CHP officer, above and left, warns residents of a mobile home park to prepare to evacuate as the brush fire advances.

David R. Crane/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jul 8, 2003
Words:739
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